Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “John the Baptist – Unique Preacher” based on Mark 1:1-8 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered: Sunday, December 10, 2017
In America the first printed ad appeared in the 1700’s. As you would imagine, the ad was basic. Wordy. Visually blah. Over the course of time that changed. In the 1900’s Ford Motor Company started to use flashy images and flashy slogans. Ever since ad campaigns have been trying to engage the senses and ignite the imaginations of the consumers. Now focus groups and surveys and demographic studies have turned advertising into not just an art, but also a science. Big business too. In 1941 TV ad would have cost $9; today a 30 second TV ad run during prime time goes for over $300,000. Run that same ad during the Super Bowl and you’ll pay $4M.
Cutting edge. Innovative. Eye-catching and thought-provoking. That’s what advertisers are shooting for. With one goal in mind. To draw attention to the product.
Is it too much to say that God’s prophets in the Old Testament were living, walking, talking advertisements for the Lord? Is it too much to say that we are too? We’re not selling anything; but our main goal is to draw attention to Jesus. And we don’t have to be flashy. Just take a look at one of the best, most effective walking, talking advertisements in the Bible, John the Baptist. He was unique, one-of-a-kind.
He broke just about every rule. Fancy packaging? No. He wore camel’s hair and a leather belt. Publicity stunts or celebrity appearances to attract attention? No. He preached the word, straightforward. He used the sacrament of Holy Baptism.
His pulpit was even unique. He didn’t preach in synagogues or even the local street corner. He was a “voice of one calling in the desert.” The desert. That seems a strange place for John the preach. Maybe so, but God taught many a lesson to his people in the desert. The children of Israel learned how to look to God for their daily bread – do you remember the manna and the quail? They did their share of grumbling and complaining too, and when chastised by the Lord, they learned to repent and turn to him for healing and salvation – do you remember the bronze serpent on a pole? In the desert, which is stark and lifeless, the people were stripped bare. They realized it was them and God and the only way they could survive is if God were to be gracious to them and bless them.
Come on out to the desert, John says to you and me. Come on. Leave behind your life for a moment. Step away from your neighborhoods. Take a short leave of absence from your jobs – the 9-5’s or the shift work or the overtime. Come sit in the sand just for a bit. Forget about the shopping and the decorating. Turn off the phones and the TV’s and the computer screens. Leave behind that world where possessions and money seem to matter most…where people are admired and almost idolized for having successful and full lives (and yet those same people may never have been baptized and may never have knelt at the manger – how full could their lives be?). Leave behind that world where people are elbowing each other as they try to get ahead, striving to be the better student, the better athlete, the better employee. Come, John says, join me in the desert. Strip everything else away and just sit here in the sand.
See how everything else in life, even the good stuff, is just clutter? See how the “full life” has nothing to do with money and possessions? See how often we have chased after treasures in this world that will one day deteriorate, while the real treasures are between Genesis and Revelation and on this altar and in the font? See how the sand of the desert is a reminder of the dust and the ashes and the dirt that we will one day return to? See how the dry, fruitless desert is a picture of our human hearts…what they once were before Jesus came to dwell within us? See how we are no different than those children of Israel?…the only way we can survive here in this place and the only way we can be rescued from this place is if God is gracious to us and blesses us? O Lord, be gracious to us and bless us!
John wasn’t afraid to call people on the carpet. Do you remember when the Pharisees came to hear him in the desert? He called them a brood of vipers and he warned them of being self-righteous and spiritually unprepared. Do you remember how John spoke the truth of God’s Word to King Herod…and it landed him in jail…and eventually cost him his life? Yes, John preached the law, but the main goal was to draw attention to Jesus. So “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
Forgiveness of sins. That’s what Jesus has for our thirsty souls. Wouldn’t it be tragic if that weren’t the case? Can you imagine if the Bible said it differently. What is Psalm 32 read: “I confessed my sins to the Lord; but he refused to forgive me” Or if you opened up to Psalm 103 and it read: “The LORD is not compassionate or gracious…he is not slow to anger…instead he treats me as my sins deserve.” Or what if the thief on the cross, after he said, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom,” heard Jesus say, “No. I won’t forgive you.”
O dear Christian, see how amazing it is that our Lord reaches out to us even while we are in the desert of our sins, and he assures us again and again that he is faithful.
- David did write in Psalm 32: Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away…For day and night your hand was heavy on me…Then I acknowledged my sin to you…And you forgave the guilt of my sin.
- And Psalm 103 so beautifully proclaims: The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love…he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
- And the thief…that repentant, dying thief heard the best reply: Today you will be with me in paradise.
In the year 430, in the region of Hippo North Africa, church father St. Augustine was nearing the end of his life. He begged one of his friends to paint the words of Psalm 32 on the wall opposite his bed. So as he lay there…dying…and his mind remembering all the sins of his youth and all the times he fell short in his Christian living and every time he brought dishonor to his Lord by his faulty words and deeds…he would see the words: Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.
Can you think of more important and more meaningful words to cling to while dying? Can you think of more important and more meaningful words to cling to while living?
John the Baptist draws our attention to Jesus. And as we leave the desert sand and go back to our lives, it will be our challenge to keep the attention on Jesus. Not only that, but that the Lord might use us as living, walking, talking advertisements for Jesus. Not flashy. Not drawing attention to self. But through the course of our days – good times and bad – we see the passage painted on the wall: Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Living, walking, talking, FORGIVEN advertisements for Jesus. Amen.